Watch out for our new website

Chantal

We’re building a brand new website for Appletree, so I thought I’d let you know how we’re doing it and how we do it for clients.

The first thing we did was to ask ourselves lots of questions about how we want our new site to look. We looked other websites that we really like and worked out what we like about them. Our own blog is one site that we like, especially the line of bright apples at the top. While there’s a lot on the page, it’s all balanced, unlike our existing website which has lots of white space at the top and sections that don’t flow together. The apples and our logo don’t go together very well.

We also talked about the structure of our new website – what pages we’re going to include and all the elements we want to show on the home page. These include a sign up form for Scribbles, our email newsletter and sections were we can promote our new products and services. This new site is going to be very dynamic with lots going on and lots of news and fresh resources being added.

Alice took all the notes we made and worked her magic on the first draft of the design – here’s how it looked.

It’s great start – cleaner and more modern that our existing site. However, I’d like the colours of the new site to match the row of apples because they’re much brighter. No more pale green background, please Alice!

We also thought the new home page was a bit busy, so we’re taking the background boxes off the section titles in the columns and changing the text from white to bright green. Below is the next version. Much better!

What do you think of our proposed new website?

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What’s the best marketing you’ve done this year?

Chantal

What marketing have you done that has really worked? What have you done that hasn’t been a great success? What was your best effort and what will you be doing more of less of next year?

2010 has been a busy year for Appletree so we’ve taken a look at the different marketing we’ve done, with different levels of success. Hopefully it will give you some ideas for different marketing to try out next year.

Have a party. In August 2010 Appletree turned 10. We celebrated by inviting our clients, friends and suppliers to a Birthday Party in September. We put a marquee on the lawn outside the office and arranged for some delicious food to be served. We caught up with people we’d not seen for ages and introduced people to potential clients. What can you celebrate next year?

Do something for someone else. Each year, everyone in our business can spend a week of their paid time with a project for a local community. Dianne helped organise a volunteers’ day in Newbury, persuading many local shops to take part – taking to strangers is not something she used to enjoy doing. I will be visiting a prison, to spend time with people who might not have anyone to listen to them, without passing judgement. Alice will be listening to people at the local elderly care centre and writing down some of their stories.

We’re doing this Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to improve our skills and to give something back to local community. Being able to tell people about the work we’ve been doing is an added bonus for our marketing. For your own CSR Review and Report, click here.

Do more networking. We bought another business this year – a networking company called Ladies That Lunch (and men too). Networking is one of the best ways to promote businesses and running the meetings allows us to share out networking experience, while bringing people together. We have big plans for next year, with new groups opening up. Take a look at http://www.ladiesthatlunch.co.uk/ to see when and where you can network with us.

Write a book. I’ve been wanting to write a book for a long time and this year, with the 10th birthday of the business, I got the idea to write a book about how to survive 10 years in business. Each chapter is divided into a number of sections and each one will be available to buy separately next year as a workbook and video.

Beginning to blog. In February we launched our blog. Clients had been asking about blogging – should they be doing it? What’s the best system to use? How does it work? So we started testing it. We now post three times a week, sharing advice and ideas with the world. We linked our blog to our Twitter account followers hear about new posts. Now we can set up blogs for clients and give them advice on how best to use a blog to market their business. Click here to find out how we do it.

So what has been our best marketing this year? We’ve done a lot of different things and there’s been no one thing that has brought the best results. What has worked best has been the integration of is all. Our CSR has been talked about in our blog; we talk about the book at networking meetings; we share marketing and networking tips on Twitter. Our marketing pulls in the same direction so in 2011, whatever marketing we decide to do, we’ll be making sure it’s all integrated and working together.

The power of being positive – part four

Chantal

Here is the final section from the sample chapter of my book (working title One in Ten – How to Survive Ten Years in Business). The chapter is about how the power of being positive is so important for successful businesses.

 Click here to read part one of this chapter; click here for part two; click here for part three.

Talk to your clients

A valuable lesson I have learnt in business is to never assume anything. A friend made an assumption that nearly cost him a large client. This client is something of a celebrity who is not short of cash and he is very careful about how he spends it. He commissioned some work from my friend and queried every cost. At one stage in the project, my friend carried out some work, at extra cost, which was not first been agreed with the client. Overall, the cost was quite small in comparison to total project, yet the client was angry at not being consulted about the work. Even though the work was needed, the tension it caused between my friend and his client took its toll on their relationship. The trust was gone.

Never assume that your clients are happy simply because you do not hear from them. Just because someone never complains does not mean that there is nothing wrong. Even asking clients if they are happy will not tell you everything. You need to really understand what is happening within your clients’ businesses – what issues they face and where they are going with their businesses – to know to how products or services help them overcome those issues and reach their goals. Asking your clients for honest feedback is scary. You may hear things that you do not really want to hear, yet without that feedback, how can you improve what you do and move your business forward?

Carrying out a Customer Value Survey amongst your clients will help you get good feedback. Every couple of years, take a selection of clients and ask them what they think of your business. You can start by emailing them your questions, for them to send replies. Then you can get on the phone and speak to some of them, asking them the questions and talking to them about their answers. It is usually easier for someone to give good feedback when they can talk to you about it, than if they have to write it down; a conversation allows you to go into deeper detail. With some clients, you can arrange to meet with them to go through the questions; doing this over lunch or coffee makes the whole experience even more enjoyable for both of you and helps strengthen your relationship.

What should you ask? The questions that will elicit the most valuable information are around the value and benefits they get from working with your business. You can ask them why they came to you in the first place rather than one of your competitors. Ask them what they thought they would get before they started working with you, what they actually get and how they feel about the differences. In the many cases you may find that you are exceeding expectations; this does not mean that you can sit back and take it easy. It means that you have to look at how to keep up that level of service and satisfaction for your clients. This sort of survey also allows you to talk to clients about what else they would like from you, or what problems they are facing in their businesses. It is a great chance to spot opportunities and strengthen the relationship you we have with them. You cannot do this if you just assume that all your clients were happy because they have never complained.

Talking to your clients does not just tell you what they think of the service you provide; it also allows them to give you advice and ideas for your business. When I took one client out for lunch a few years ago, to ask for her feedback, she asked me about my exit strategy for my business, something. I had not thought about. My client suggested I speak to another one of my clients – a business adviser – about exit strategies and the future of my business. So then I took him out to lunch to ask for his feedback on our service and we ended up talking about exit strategies and doing some future planning for my business. Think about how you can use your clients to help you grow your business with their help.

In my business we use a number of suppliers. They include freelance writers, graphic designers, web developers, IT support, accounting and banking services, internet providers and business advisers. There is only one that ever asks me what I think of their service. They answer our phones calls when no one is available to answer them in the office. Working with the same contact for six years, every six months she calls. She tells me about the new services they have and tells me what she needs from me, to make the service better. I tell her what is going on at Appletree including new clients and new members of staff. That regular phone call makes me feel like a valued client and that the people who answer the phone are part of my team. I wish more of my suppliers took the time to ask me about my business and they provide. If they did, they would not be so surprised when I leave them unexpectedly.

When did you last ask your clients what they really think of your service? When did you last take one of your clients out for lunch?

The power of being positive – part two

Chantal

Here is another section from the sample chapter of my book (working title One in Ten – How to Survive Ten Years in Business). Click here to read part one of this chapter.

Hang onto your dreams

Until your dreams and goals are taken out of your imagination, they will remain as thoughts and will never become reality. They have to be created in some form. When you can really see your dreams, you will have the ability to reach them, not matter what gets in your way.

The goal I created in 2004 of moving to Appletree Cottage was not about having material possessions or status. Living there is about where I want to be, to spend the rest of my life and grow my business. Within a couple of days of moving in, I felt as if I had always lived there. When I need to recharge my batteries, I spend time at home, working in my garden, watching the birds, walking round the paddock counting the willow trees. Appletree Cottage is my home and my sanctuary and will be for many, many years, until someone prises me away from it. It is also the home of my business and allows me to develop the business and its reputation. Now we have staff and clients who love coming here, because they find it such an inspirational place to work. In a competitive world, it is one of the things that help us to stand out.

When you have a dream – something you want to do, somewhere or someone you want to be – first create it and then hang onto it. I am a visual person, so when I imagine something – when I daydream or plan – I see pictures, colours, shapes and movements. I picture myself doing something. I can feel what is happening. I do this a lot when I am preparing for a riding competition, where I have to follow a ‘test’ that tells me where to change direction and speed, from walk to trot to canter. I learn the test by drawing the route on paper and then I ride through it in my mind – trotting around each corner, making each change. I picture myself in the actual arena where I will ride the competition and I imagine how it will feel when it goes perfectly.

When all the thoughts, words, images and colours of a goal or dream are floating around in your head, you need to get them out of there and onto paper. I have pictures, cards and rosettes pinned to the board next to my desk, to remind me where I am going and what is possible. You might use spreadsheets, collages or diagrams, because different people see goals differently. Whatever tool you use, the secret is to actually produce something from your thoughts, so that you create your goal and bringing it to life. Even if the ‘image’ then goes into a draw for the next five years, you have created it and it will hide in your subconscious, quietly steering your decisions and directions towards your goal. During 2009 I created another image, as part of an exercise at a networking meeting I attended. It was rather abstract yet I knew what it meant. It sat on my desk for almost a year until it became reality. You will have to wait for chapter ten to find out more about this!

Having an image of your goal or dream, whether it is on paper or just a thought in your head, gives you something to hang onto, no matter what other people say or think. The world is full of negative people, for whom nothing ever works and everything is too difficult. They will come up with reasons why you cannot do something or achieve your goal. My husband often questions my new ideas, which just makes me even more determined to do something, especially if I have already created the goal. For years I swore I would never go back to India, having not enjoyed my backpacking trip there as a nineteen year old. In 2004 I created the goal of taking part in a sponsored ride to raise money for a charity. It transpired that the next ride was in India and my husband reminded me, “You said you’d never go back; you’ll never manage it.” That was a red rag to the bull, making me even more determined to raise the £2500 required and to survive five days in the saddle, on someone else’s horse, in a far off place. It was one of the best trips I have ever taken and I have done a sponsored ride every year since.

This determination to do something or achieve a goal is what separates successful people from those who struggle in business. You also need a positive outlook, because it helps you to see beyond the barriers and the issues that might get in your way. If you always focus on what might stop you, you will never even start a new venture or look at a new idea. Do not ignore the potential challenges; always consider what might happen, think about the resources you need and assess the financial implications to make sure there is not a huge risk that might cost you a lot of money. Do not learn this lesson the hard way. Once you have taken everything into account, if your dream still feels well within reach and still inspires you, then you can go for it. This way, when someone else tells you your idea might not work, you have your research to back up, the inspiration of your goal. Throw in a good helping of positive attitude and you will succeed.

If I listen to the negative people in the world, would not do half things I do now. I would probably have gone out of business years ago; I might not even have started my business. There is a difference between advice and opinion – listen to the advice you are given and be wary of other people’s opinions. Someone who tells you to do something or not do something, because of their opinion, does not see your dream or share it with you. Your dream might not inspire them; if it inspires you and fills you with hope, excitement and determination, then draw it, hang onto it and go for it!

How do you hang onto your dreams?

The power of being positive – part one

Chantal

I’ve just finished writing the sample chapter of my book (working title One in Ten – How to Survive Ten Years in Business). I’ll soon be sending it to some publishers to see who wants it.

In the meantime, here’s a section from the chapter, which is all about how to stay positive.

Dream your dreams

Without dreams and goals you will never be able to create and sustain a successful business. Goals will give you the motivation you need to get out of bed in the morning, to keep working towards what you want and to overcome the obstacles that get in the way.

In July 2004 I attended a goal setting workshop with my friend Gill, a fellow business owner. On large sheets of paper, with coloured pens, we drew and wrote where we wanted to be in three years time. My sheet showed a red brick house with an office building in the garden; it has stables and a big brown horse in the paddock. I wrote ‘July 2007’ by the image. And then I went home and put the drawing into a cupboard and didn’t look at it again for about three years. The only thing I did was tell my friend, an estate agent, that someday I wanted to live in a three bedroom house with an office and a horse at the end of the garden.

Fast forward to September 2005 and my estate agent friend brought me photos of a house not yet on the market. Just three miles from where we lived at the time, the house sat in good horse riding country. It had three bedrooms, an office and stables at the end of the garden. And then she told me the name of the house – Appletree Cottage. How much closer could you get to a business called Appletree? Through fate I knew I would live and work there.

“It’ll be too small,” commented my husband, Grant on first seeing the photos. “Let’s go and see it anyway,” I persuaded him. The first view of the house in its valley moved me that day; it is a sight that still moves me nearly every time I turn down the lane, heading for home. The view from each window within the house took our breaths away and I knew my husband was interested.

“We can’t afford it,” objected Grant after seeing the house, as he already had a strong opinion of what our house was worth. “Let’s get it valued anyway,” said I, ever the optimist. To our delight the valuation came in much higher than we had expected, so we could afford Appletree Cottage and we put in an offer, before it was officially for sale. Instant rejection – the owner hoped someone else would offer more. When the house eventually came onto the market, we again offered the full asking price. Despite having a mortgage and the ability to move straight away, again we were turned down. To keep our spirits up, we looked at a few other houses on the market; none of them had the magic that we’d felt every time we’d been to Appletree Cottage, so we waited.

During that time, my husband came close to giving up the house. He saw the obstacles in our way – the stubborn owner, the other viewers with more money. My frustration grew as I worked hard to keep our dream alive; and because I desperately wanted to grow my business. Working in a bedroom, using our dining room for meetings put limitations on its development. There was no room to take on staff and I did not want to always rely on freelance support. The building in the garden at Appletree Cottage would make a perfect office, with room for an assistant. Plans were already underway for future members of staff – account managers, copywriters and designers. Without the space into which to expand, the business was trapped.

Eventually, nearly a year after first seeing Appletree Cottage, we made a rash decision. We asked the estate agent to present our final offer to the owner of Appletree Cottage, for a firm acceptance or refusal within a week, before we went on holiday. I would not wait any longer and wanted to go on holiday knowing the future. Rash? Definitely and as soon as we sent our ultimatum I wondered if we had made a huge mistake. That week crawled past so slowly until, the day before we left, the call came from the estate agent. It was the answer I so desperately wanted and had been dreaming of for so long. Appletree Cottage was ours! My friend laughed when she realised I was crying at the other end of the phone.

When we finally moved into our new home, Grant told me that my determination and positive attitude had kept the dream of Appletree Cottage alive. When packing my office for the move, I found the picture I created three years earlier – the red brick house, the office, the stables and paddock. Appletree Cottage had it all. The date on the picture was July 2007; we moved there in January 2007.

What dreams do you dream about your life and your business?

Our Dianne wins employee recognition award

Chantal

Keith Burr of Recognition Express and Dianne Beechey

During the summer I entered Dianne Beechey, my longest serving employee, into the Recognition Awards 2010, run by Recognition Express. We were all delighted to hear that she won the Regional Final!

Dianne has been with my business for almost four years and this is what I put in my entry for the competition: “Dianne is the rock within the business. She is always there, always dependable. She keeps us calm in times of stress and tells us off for swearing; she works brilliantly with our clients; and she has us in fits of laughter on a regular basis. Every business should have one!”

Dianne's commemorative plaque

Dianne’s brilliance obviously shone through those words, as she won the Berkshire Regional Final. On Wednesday 29th September 2010, Keith Burr of Recognition Express in Newbury came to Appletree Headquarters to present this plaque (see left) to Dianne, along with a bottle of bubbly and a £30 gift voucher for Marks & Spencer.

And in addition Appletree got £200 to spend with Recognition Express, who, as they say on their pens, provide “unique solutions in promoting your image”. Now we can have fun deciding which promotional goodies we will buy. Perhaps something to give our clients at Christmas?

Well done Dianne, and thank you!!